Google has saved you from getting lost, running out of email storage space, and not knowing trivial facts about 90s TV shows. And now it’s going to help save you from a dystopian Mad Max future by investing in solar energy. The company just bet $168 million on solar tech, in the form of the Ivanpah “power tower” plant in the Mojave Desert in California, which should be finished in 2013.
Power towers are simple: lay out an array of mirrors — 346,000, in this case — and aim them at a tower full of water. On a sunny day, it will reach temperatures in excess of 1000 degrees F, ultimately producing "392 gross MW of energy." (I think they mean power.) When you consider that the sun isn't always shining, that translates to about 286 megawatts of energy a year, or about half as much as a small nuclear reactor.
This project has been a long time coming — Google was an investor in Brightsource, the storied company behind this effort, as early as 2008. If you believe the hype — and this reporter does — no one has more experience building solar thermal power plants than Brightsource. And other than wind and hydropower, no other source of renewable energy is cheaper per kilowatt.
Couple a system like this to a storage solution — some have proposed underground tanks of molten salt — and you've got the world's first example of "solar baseload." That's power that could be available 24/7, just like all that coal we need to replace. It's a big effing deal, and Google's commitment to it show just how consistently forward-thinking their leadership is.